The Peoples Assembly is to be congratulated on organising the London march and demonstration against austerity yesterday. The effectiveness of weekend marches in bringing about the social change that we so desperately need is, however, coming into question.
A weekend demonstration and march almost brought down the government in February 2003 and almost halted the invasion of Iraq. The forces of reaction do not, however, stand still in the face of a successful tactic. The government has leaned to counter weekend demonstrations and marches by simply ignoring them, by levying charges on the organisers in the form of traffic management orders, policing costs and mandatory insurance, and by limiting the media coverage they receive. Such adaptive behaviour by the forces of reaction is nothing new. For example, the building of barricades in Paris was almost the trigger in 1848 for another French Revolution, but as Engels pointed out in his 1885 Preface to Marx’s paper on the Class Struggles in France, the army learned how to smash through barricades with cannon and go round them by ruthlessly smashing their way through adjacent houses. When this happened, the soldiers no longer saw behind the barricades “the people,” but rather a gang of rebels and agitators. The spell was broken, and building barricades ceased to be an effective strategy for pursuing social revolution.
This is not to say that weekend demonstrations and marches serve no purpose. Despite the obstacles put in their way, Croydon TUC will be organising its annual May Day March through North End to Ruskin House on Saturday, 30 April. On Sunday, 1 May, trade unionists across London will assemble at Clerkenwell Green and march to Trafalgar Square. These events are worth supporting. New tactics are, however, also required. The Croydon Assembly, an initiative by Croydon TUC to reach out to communities and organisations in the area and draw them into discussion, debate and action is one example. Another is the initiative by French workers and students to Rise up at Night or Nuit debout and occupy public spaces to debate and discuss, melting away in the day and returning the following evening. Reminiscent of the tactics adopted by Occupy, but possibly harder for the authorities to counter, could this be the next way forward?